An unauthorized bank account in the name of H.E. McCracken Middle School has turned up during a review of the school's operations by Beaufort County School District officials.
It's not known whether principal Phillip Shaw had anything to do with the account, interim superintendent Jackie Rosswurm said. Shaw has been on paid leave since Nov. 8, and the district has refused to say why.
Interim superintendent Jackie Rosswurm said Friday Shaw won't return to work until the district's review is complete.
Little is known about the bank account -- for instance, how much money is in it, who set it up and who has access to it, Rosswurm said. Because no district official is listed on the account, the bank wouldn't provide any information on it, she said.
Rosswurm would not say which bank held the account.
The district reported the bank account Friday morning to the Bluffton Police Department. Police spokesman Sgt. Joe Babkiewicz declined comment on the issue,citing the department's ongoing investigation. A copy of the complaint was not available late Friday afternoon because the department was closed.
Rosswurm said the account was discovered Nov. 20, during a review of processes and procedures at McCracken. The discovery was unexpected: "It was not something that we were looking for. It just came about," Rosswurm said.
The review of the school was prompted by "personnel issues" related to Shaw, Rosswurm added. She refused to elaborate.
Shaw has been on leave since Nov. 8 -- 23 days in total and 14 days before the discovery of the account.
The school's office manager, Denise Gibbo, also has been out since Shaw's leave began. Rosswurm said Friday she did not know details about Gibbo's absence.
District officials, including Rosswurm and spokesman Jim Foster, initially described the principal's absence as personal leave. They have steadfastly refused to provide any other details, including whether Shaw took the leave voluntarily or was placed on leave by the district.
Several attempts to reach the principal for comment since his departure have been unsuccessful.
Foster said on Nov. 15 that Shaw was expected to return "in a few days." That changed -- apparently after the bank account was discovered -- although Rosswurm said she "is in no way inferring that (Shaw) is involved in this."
District chief of operations Phyllis Whiteand Alice Walton, head of the district's human resources department, have met with Shaw since the account was found. White declined to say whether the account was discussed with Shaw.
Shaw continues to receive his $93,774 annual salary.
Rosswurm said most aspects of the district's review of McCracken continue. However, its examination of money-related procedures is on hold until the police finish their investigation.
She added she is not certain when either the district or the police will finish their reviews. More information will be provided "as soon as the public's need to know something outweighs an employee's right to privacy," Rosswurm said. The district notified McCracken parents of Shaw's leave on Nov. 15, a week after it began, with a note saying only that assistant principal Joseph Warfield will be in charge of the school while Shaw was out "for a few days."
White said principals and bookkeepers at each school have access to two bank accounts -- one for student activities and one for emergencies. District officials, not principals, must give final approval for purchases from either account, and receipts or expenditures are tracked at the district office.
White said the account discovered during the review is not on file with the district. She is not aware of any irregularities with either of the two authorized accounts.
It's possible that the unauthorized account is the result of a mistake -- set up, for example, incorrectly by a PTO, or otherwise not related to district funds -- but it would still be a violation of district policy since it wasn't authorized, White said.
"At a minimum, they did violate the policy stating they're not supposed to have an additional account," White said. "That's very cleared stated in our policy and procedures."
White said she has not encountered an unauthorized bank account in her 12 years at the district.
Rosswurm said she told school staff about the account in a meeting Friday. Parents of McCracken students also were notified about the account by the school district's phone messaging system, Foster said.
The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette filed a Freedom of Information request recently for some of the emails that Rosswurm and Shaw have exchanged. The district provided 10 emails but none shed light on the reasons for Shaw's absence. In its response, the district said it withheld five emails because "they deal with personnel issues with two employees" at the school.